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30 January 2012

If I could bribe them by a Rose

If I could bribe them by a Rose
I'd bring them every flower that grows
From Amherst to Cashmere!
I would not stop for night, or storm –
Or frost, or death, or anyone –
My business were so dear!

If they would linger for a Bird
My Tambourin were soonest heard
Among the April Woods!
Unwearied, all the summer long,
Only to break in wilder song
When Winter shook the boughs!

What if they hear me!
Who shall say
That such an importunity
May not at last avail?
That, weary of this Beggar's face –
They may not finally say, Yes –
To drive her from the Hall?
                                                - F176 (1860)  179


To paraphrase: the squeaky wheel gets the oil. If you  make a pest of yourself, if you are just persistent enough even if you drive everyone crazy, you may well end up achieving your goal. Here the poet doesn’t ever specify her goal but it is something she wants pretty bad. She’s willing to bribe, and the example she gives is roses that she would single-mindedly hunt until every single flower between here and upper India were in her hot little hand. Nothing would stop her – and no one!
Roman Beggar Woman
Edgar Degas
            The second example she gives is that of bird song. She would play her “Tambourin” like a bird in the woods not only through spring and summer, but winter, too. In fact, winter would only spur her to “wilder song.”  So at least metaphorically, those she opportunes are flower and bird lovers. Lucky for Dickinson who was also a flower and bird lover. No doubt, though, in reaching for a metaphor she reached for the beloved things around her.
            In the last stanza she is saying, so what if they hear me and grow tired of me? The strategy might work if only to get rid of me – “drive her from the Hall.” It is left to the reader to deduce who “They” may be. I’m happy with the ambiguity, though. By not spelling it out she leaves the poem open enough for readers to supply their own heartfelt desires. Surely many of us would be willing to make a pest of ourselves, go all out, give 101 percent, for that goal we dream of.
            But what might the poet be wanting? A few things spring to mind: Inclusion in the lives or in important events by people she loves (perhaps the Bowles or Austin and Sue); or maybe publishers who might publish her poetry (and this is a strategy modern poets adopt as well – wear the poetry editor down until she finally publishes something); or – and this seems too easy, Heaven. She would really really like to get to heaven. I like this interpretation because she refers to herself as a “Beggar” and that is traditionally a metaphor for a supplicant for paradise. Also, the idea of a “Hall” where one petitions is akin to some of her other imagery of heaven where there are hosts of angels, buildings, hierarchies, etc. Dickinson also commonly refers to angels, and they are typically the sort of angel to whom bird song and flowers would appeal. Ultimately, however, who knows?
            Dickinson makes a lot of use of rhyme although there isn’t a rhyme scheme: In stanza 1 it is AABCDB; stanza 2 is AABCCD; and stanza 3 is ABACDDC. Metrically, the poem is straightforward. Each stanza has two iambic tetrameter lines, a trimeter, two more iambic tetrameter lines followed by a final trimeter. The last stanza divides the first tetrameter into two lines in order to better emphasize her need for courage: “They” might hear her!
            Another emphasis comes with the spondee, the two adjacent accented syllables, in the last stanza: “say, Yes.” These two syllables are key to the poem and so deserve the emphasis.
            Whatever it was Dickinson wanted, I for one hope she got it!

3 comments:

  1. "What if they hear me!" is an "Adonic" - a metric line I can't separate from Sappho's verse, myself. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adonean) That is, love poems.
    I'll echo you: /who/ever she wanted, I hope she got!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks - looked up in my poetry dictionary. Useful term and works well here.

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  2. I vote for literary fame as her wish. Her voice has the command presence to make others assent to her wild songs when plagued by earthly struggles.

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